Highway To Hell


Atlantic Records, 1979


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I love this album.

This qualifies as semi-news since I am a 43-year-old father of three who, if a Highway To Hell-era Bon Scott were to ring the bell to pick up my 16-year-old daughter, would answer the door with bared teeth and a Louisville Slugger.

But, see, I love this album.

Part of the reason is, it's lived two lives with me. One happened when the album first came out in 1979. I was, well, 16 at the time, bowing down before guitar-brandishing greats like Van Halen and Montrose, and the Young brothers struck me as among the high priests of the great rock riff. (Clearly, Jack " School Of Rock" Black agrees…) The second time around, repurchasing a bunch of old favorites on CD in my late 30s, was no less joyful an experience.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Can you tell I love this album?

One way albums make the leap from good to great is by simply never letting up. In a career that's seen plenty of greatness, but also plenty of filler, AC/DC has never issued a more consistent album than this relentless 10-song slab of ringing, stinging rock and roll (and yes, I'm including the also-great Back In Black in that statement). There isn't a clunker in the bunch; not even close. And it contains not one, not two, but three of their best cuts ever, the timeless, iconic title track, the hilarious, propulsive "Shot Down In Flames" and the thundering, electric "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)."

The music and lyrics, of course, have all the subtlety of a three-megaton warhead. That's the point. Yes, the lyrics are full of giddy double entendres, but it's cleaner than the average network sitcom, and twice as funny. Anyone who thinks vocalist Bon Scott was a loud-mouthed simpleton hasn't been listening; the guy put a lot more craft into his lyrics than you'd expect from a brawling, alcoholic ex-chauffeur. He's arguably the wittiest cad ever in the long and storied line of rock and roll hooligans.

Kudos also go to producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the future Mr. Shania Twain, who gave the band's already big sound even greater punch and clarity. Angus and Malcom Young's guitars have never sounded more muscular and vibrant, and the Cliff Williams-Phil Rudd rhythm section plays like their hair is on fire. Surprisingly, though, it's the little touches I've come to appreciate the most over the years - the little "Woo!" Bon lets out as "Shot Down In Flames" gets started; the huge background vocals the boys put up on "Walk All Over You"; the way Rudd crashes the cymbal every single time Bon sings "blood" in "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)."

Finally, a word about Angus and Malcolm's playing on this album. Gargantuan. That's it. Highway To Hell is 50 minutes of one of the great riff machines in history at the top of their game. Any wannabe guitar player who doesn't own this album doesn't really wanna be.

It's true, you see -- I love this album. (Maybe I should have just stopped there...)

Rating: A

User Rating: A-



© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.